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Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum sinking 3-pointers with unforeseen and unparalleled efficiency

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DETROIT – Jayson Tatum says he doesn’t understand eschewing mid-range jumpers, which analytics have shown are typically less efficient when other shots – 3-pointers and shots at the rim – are available. He subscribes to decades of basketball orthodoxy reinforced by his own experience at the highest level of college basketball and the praise heaped upon him at summer league.

“Some of the best players ever were great at mid-range,” Tatum said. “Kobe, Michael Jordan, Paul Pierce, Dirk.”

Ever since the Celtics drafted Tatum No. 3 last June, Boston coach Brad Stevens has tried to deprogram Tatum’s attitude on jumpers.

Tatum heard from Stevens during the summer.

“If I was involved in a film session at all this summer, it was about what a good shot looks like once you get to the NBA,” Stevens said.

Tatum heard from Stevens during training camp.

“If I would pass up a 3 to take a mid-range 2, he’d stop practice,” Tatum said.

And Tatum has heard from Stevens during the regular season.

“We have tried to make it an emphasis to don’t hesitate to shoot, right?” Stevens said. “He’s so tall that, on the catch, he can get that shot off. And probably his inclination has probably always been to fake it and drive it. But he shoots it with ease and feels good every time he shoots it.”

Somewhere along line, Stevens’ message got through. Tatum has taken more than twice as many 3-pointers as long 2s. The change in Tatum’s approach is an overwhelming victory for smarts over stubbornness. Simply by changing his shot selection, Tatum has become much more valuable to Boston.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s making a stunning 51.5% of his 3-pointers, either.

Not only does Tatum lead the NBA in 3-point percentage (among qualified players, as are all 3-point percentages in this story)…

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Not only is he on pace for the best 3-point percentage every by a rookie…

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He’s posting one of the best 3-point percentages of all-time:

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It’s a startling output for someone who didn’t shoot especially well from the college arc just last season. Tatum made just 34.2% of his 3-pointers in his lone season at Duke. Nobody with such a low college 3-point percentage has ever cracked 40%, let alone 50%, as a rookie.

“Anybody who says they’re not surprised by the 3-point shooting based on what he did in college is lying,” Pistons president/coach Van Gundy said.

Yet, Van Gundy endorses an assertion the Celtics made after they traded down from No. 1 to draft Tatum at No. 3.

“I thought he was the best prospect in the draft,” said Van Gundy, a more neutral observer. “He’s got all the tools.”

Tatum has the athleticism to attack the rim, and he has shown a proclivity for drawing fouls. At 6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan and good mobility, he already looks like a solid defender with the potential to become a shutdown stopper. He’s helpful on the glass, too.

But it’s 3-point shooting that makes him the most likely No. 1 pick in a redone 2017 draft. Nobody else taken top six is shooting even 30% on 3s, the troubles of No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz and No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball especially pronounced.

Maybe Tatum’s long-distance success is unsustainable. He has attempted just 99 3-pointers (making 51). That’s not a large enough sample to prove Tatum is now reliable from beyond the arc. It’s probably wise to be skeptical of something that recently seemed so improbable.

On the other hand, even if this is just a hot stretch, it’s one usually reserved for good 3-point shooters. The player Tatum was most compared to before the draft, Carmelo Anthony, never made 51-of-99 3-pointers in any stretch of his career – and Anthony made himself into a pretty good 3-point shooter. There’s plenty of room for Tatum to regress and remain incredibly effective.

In the meantime, his 3-point percentage is sparkling as All-Star Weekend approaches. Tatum doesn’t expect to be selected for the 3-point contest, and he might be right. Part of his efficiency is due to selectivity. Despite starting and shooting so accurately, he’s tied for 59th in 3-pointers made. But he also hoped just to near 40% on his 3-pointers this season, and that prediction has been way off.

“If I got picked to do it, I’d definitely go,” Tatum said.

Tatum can’t control that. He can only somewhat control how many of his 3-pointers go in. But he can control how many he takes.

In that respect, maybe his talent was projectable.

“He’s a good listener,” said Pistons rookie Luke Kennard, who played with Tatum at Duke. “I know, when I was on the court with him, playing with him, I could always go up to him and talk to him about something on the court. Whether I thought I could do something better, he was listening. Next play, it was happening.”

Tatum’s next step is increasing his volume from three 3-point attempts per game. Shoot anyway when closing defenders are nearer. Mix in more pull-up 3s out of the pick-and-roll.

Why not? He has already made everything look so easy.

Enes Kanter’s teammate told him “You’re about to get 50 dropped on you” after LeBron troll

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Enes Kanter likes to inject himself in situations he doesn’t belong in.

The New York Knicks forward likes to take aim at the biggest star in the game, LeBron James, and has said in the past that he would fight LeBron if he had to.

Some previous comments from LeBron riled up members of the Knicks organization, and there’s been animosity between the two sides ever since.

So it wasn’t too much of a surprise when Kanter had something to say on Twitter about his former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, dropping 148 points during a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday. Heck, even former Cavaliers coach David Blatt jumped in on that one, albeit immediately before his own team got 151 scored on them.

Kanter took to Twitter, using LeBron’s own catchphrase against him:

Of course, that’s probably not the best idea. Kanter is a role player and LeBron is one of the best who ever played. Even if the Cavaliers are stinking it up lately, you can’t go after the King like that. You just might miss.

Via ESPN:

“One texted [teammate] me just to say — I’m not going to say who — but he texted me ‘You’re about to get 50 dropped on you, boy.'” Kanter said before Sunday’s matinee against the Los Angeles Lakers. “I responded something back, but I’m not going to say what it is.”

Kanter added that he’s just “having fun” and wanting to put “a smile on people’s face” with his constant prodding.

We’ll see if he ends up smiling the next time Cleveland and New York meet on April 9 at MSG.

David Blatt’s troll on the Cavaliers backfires when opponent scores 151 (VIDEO)

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David Blatt, perhaps sensing his time to pounce as rumors swirl around Tyronn Lue’s departure, decided to troll the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. It did not go so well.

Blatt, who was fired from the head coaching spot in Cleveland in 2015, now heads Darüşşafaka S.K. in the Turkish Super League. Coaching Team Europe vs. Team Asia in the Turkish BSL All-Star Game, Blatt joked during a TV interview that he was just hoping his team didn’t give up as many points as the Cavaliers did to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday. That game ended with a score of 148-124.

Via Twitter:

So what happened to Blatt’s Team Europe in the All-Star Game?

According to Erik Gundersen over at LeBron Wire, Team Europe promptly got rolled on with a tally of … 151 points.

The final total in the Turkish All-Star matchup was 151-142 in favor of Team Asia.

Oops.

Salah Mejri threatened to come to Blazers locker room after Jusuf Nurkic tussle

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The Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks had a game of many emotions on Saturday night at Moda Center. Of course, the game wasn’t that close — Portland led by 17 at the half and finished the game by beating Dallas, 117-108.

But as we’ve seen in the NBA recently, the propensity for NBA players to get into physical spats is high. So it was no surprise that we saw yet another scrum between NBA players on the east side of the Willamette on Saturday as Dallas’ Salah Mejri got tangled up with Jusuf Nurkic and Evan Turner.

The play began with Nurkic getting a clean block on Mejri. Because of the position of the two players, Nurkic’s arm was angled as such that after the block it came clean through to rest on Mejri’s shoulder. Mejri turned, and the whole thing became a tangle of arms and elbows.

Neither Mejri or Nurkic took kindly to that, so the two squared off. Nurkic gave Mejri an ineffectual little push, while Portland’s Evan Turner jumped in to hold Mejri back. The Mavericks center promptly flopped all the way to the ground, inexplicably grabbing his face. It was Premier League-level flopping from Mejri, just top notch stuff.

Via NBC Sports Northwest:

After the game, Turner told media that Mejri threatened to come get the Blazers.

“He’s like ‘I’ll come to the locker room!'” said Turner. “Out of a 225 lb. dude [Turner] a 275 lb. dude [Nurkic] and a 7-footer [Mejri] who hit the ground?”

Portland’s CJ McCollum didn’t seem too impressed with the threat.

“If they really want to fight, they know where to find people,” said McCollum.

Much like any arena, the visiting locker room is just down the hall from the home squad at Moda Center, so it would have been easy for Mejri to get to. Nothing happened, so it turned out as an empty threat.

Meanwhile, Turner was assessed a technical foul for the tussle — presumably for “pushing” Mejri. There was notable tension the rest of the game between Mejri, Nurkic, and the crowd at Moda Center, but nothing else of consequence happened.

LeBron James: “We could easily get bounced early in the playoffs”

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Cleveland’s defense was pathetic Saturday and the Thunder routed them because of it. The Cavaliers gave up 148 points, allowed the Thunder to shoot 58 percent, and basically were little more than traffic cones for Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the rest of the Thunder to dribble and pass around. The Cavaliers have lost 8-of-11 and coach Tyronn Lue’s seat is getting warm.

Can the Cavaliers even get out of the East? LeBron James wasn’t even asking that question after the Saturday loss, he wants his team to get to the conference finals first. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“Playoffs? We can’t even start thinking about that, not the way we’re playing right now,” James said. “We could easily get bounced early in the playoffs if they started next weekend. Haven’t even began thinking about the postseason.”

It’s January, it’s far too early to write LeBron and the Cavaliers off — his teams have won the East for seven straight seasons in a row for a reason. Cleveland’s mid-season malaise is a thing and they snap out of it, Isaiah Thomas will find his legs and play better, but this season has shown some troubling structural flaws in the Cavaliers. Ones that could bite them in the playoffs. Ones they are active in the trade market trying to address, or at least shore up a little.

Nobody around the league is comfortable picking against a LeBron team in the East — he has been to seven straight Finals for a reason (and how impressive an achievement that is gets overlooked). But this seems to be the weakest LeBron team since he bolted Cleveland (the first time?), and a second-round matchup vs. Toronto is no gimme anymore. LeBron is right to be concerned.